How to make a Universal Design Toolkit

How do you universally design a universal design guide or toolkit? Living the message is a key factor – if designing something to be inclusive, the process and outputs must be inclusive too. If not, key sections of your intended audience could be missing out on your information. After all, learners come in all shapes and sizes and different frames of reference. 

When devising a customer engagement toolkit, the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland also documented their process and lessons learned. The document is focused on tourism, but the method and principles are relevant to any field of practice.

At 100 pages this is a lengthy document. You might want to skip the first part and go directly to the section on Guidelines to Toolkit Authors, which is at the end. Each of the headings and subheadings form a guide to developing and designing instructional toolkits and guidelines for practice.  Here are some of the key points from this section about the structure of the toolkit:

Step 1: ‘Perception’, the ability to understand information regardless of the user’s ability to see, hear or touch
Step 2: ‘Discoverability’, providing flexibility in use so that the user can find the information they want
Step 3: ‘Understanding’, how easy it is for the customer to interpret and understands how to use the content; regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level
Step 4: ‘Use’, the design prevents from accidental or inadvertent actions, forms, controls and navigation are usable and the customer decides on how to use and act on the content presented

The title of the report is Lessons from Good Practices to Guide Universal Design Toolkits

Living the message is an important point in the universal design world. Anyone who writes, educates or speaks about universal design and inclusive practice should live the message. For example, a slideshow presentation about universal design with tiny font is contrary to the message. 

Editor’s note: This document looks to be for an academic or professional audience and perhaps not following their own guidelines. Regardless of the intended audience, applying UD principles helps understanding and retention of information.

Universal Design, Health and Ageing: A checklist

Four older men wearing hats sit at a square table in the park.The most well-known guide for ageing populations is the World Health Organization’s Age Friendly Cities and Communities. This, and similar guides, focus on “active ageing” or “positive ageing”. They aim to counter the “burden” view of older people which tends to focus on ill-health. But good health and design are closely linked. The Center for Health Design has joined the dots on universal design, health and ageing and created a checklist.  

The Center for Health Design‘s checklist focuses on design features specific to older people. This checklist differs from others as it includes the health care aspect and takes a universal design approach. The checklist is not a list of comprehensive specifications, but a “thought starter”. It is best used to guide the discussion of design teams at the outset of a project. The checklist covers Home and Community including residential, Healthcare and design of clinics and emergency rooms, and Workplace designs and strategies.

The checklist matrix lists the strategy or goal, design considerations for the built environment, and the universal implications. It includes ageing in place, active living, hospital at home, hospital design, and promoting healthy lifestyles. 

The checklist has a comprehensive reference list to support the content. An extract from the checklist is below. 

The header of the checklist matrix showing the Strategy, Design element and universal implications.

 

 

Great Public Spaces Toolkit

Public Spaces Toolkit cover.Creating great public spaces is one of the NSW Premier’s priorities. The Great Public Spaces Toolkit has all the elements for anyone interested in public space. It’s a collection of free resources to support local government, state agencies, industry and the community. 

The Great Public Spaces Toolkit includes:

A four page Fact Sheet about the Evaluation Tool which has four key questions: Am I able to get there? Am I able to play and participate? Am I able to stay? And am I able to connect? These key indicators are an extension of those developed for the Everyone Can Play guide. They were: Can I get there? Can I play? and Can I stay? and represent a universal design approach to the design of spaces. 

Evaluation Tool for Public Space and Public Life 

Great Public Spaces Guide 

The Engagement Report

The Evaluation Tool is also available in Arabic, Chinese and Vietnamese. Print versions are also included. 

Planning Inclusively: Make Communities Just for All

View from high building in Brisbane overlooking building roofs and the Brisbane river and bridges. Jacaranda trees can be seen in the street.Urban planning is a highly contested and politicised area to work in. The talk is that planning is about people, not roads and buildings. But when do users – people – get a say in planning? Only at the end when plans are put on exhibition. Then you need to be an expert to understand them. Planning inclusively is to make communities just for all. 

Lisa Stafford, in a briefing paper, asks how well do we consider human diversity in planning cities and regions?  Planners and bureaucrats would rarely even consider the concept of “Ableism” in their designs. That’s why we still have marginalisation by design. The lens of the average or the “normal” person is rarely put aside for a lens of diversity. 

Graphic with four circles: one each for exclusion, separation, integration and inclusion.Social planning can drive inclusive communities because it operates from a justice framework. Participatory planning is one way to work towards inclusion. 

The tile of Lisa Stafford’s paper is, Planning Inclusively: Disrupting ‘Ableism’ to Make Communities Just for All.  She has four recommendations at the end of her easy to read paper. Briefly they are:

      1. Adopt an approach of planning for all
      2. Apply spatial justice thinking to planning
      3. Embed universal design as a core planning principle
      4. Re-emphasise the social in planning

Editorial Introduction 

“Disabled people continue to experience exclusion by design in our everyday spaces, infrastructure and services, which has been magnified through the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, there is an opportunity for urban and regional planning practitioners, researchers and disabled people to come together to advocate for and create inclusive, sustainable communities for all. However, to make this transformative, we must first critically question how well do we really consider human diversity in planning cities, towns and regions? This question is examined in this briefing paper by contesting entrenched challenges like ‘ableism’ before providing fundamental starting points for planners in planning more inclusive and just communities for all.”

Adopting universal design: the view of architects

A floor plan drawing with a black penWe rely on designers to make the things we use, and to make them easy and convenient to use. But are users the main consideration or is it a case of impressing fellow designers? Design competitions rarely mention useability, if at all. When it comes to architects, adopting universal design seems to be a big problem according to recent research.

The research paper from Europe takes the case of Flanders to examine the barriers and drivers in architectural practice. While legislation and regulations aim to push for more inclusive designs, reluctance is still apparent. Data were collected from Flemish architects using a survey and seminars. Sceptical attitudes was a common barrier with both architects and their clients. One of the conclusions is that access regulations create tunnel vision regarding UD. Participant responses were generally dominated by the language of accessibility and not inclusion.

This research project has produced a lot of useful content in terms of real and perceived barriers to implementing UD. The title of the paper is, Barriers To And Drivers Of Adopting UD In Current Architectural Practice: The Case Of Flanders.  It is published in the Journal or Architectural and Planning Research

Purpose of the study:

“The current study, which investigated architects’ perceptions of UD barriers and drivers in current architectural practice in Flanders, Belgium, aims to add to the existing body of knowledge of the three main categories of UD barriers and drivers in two distinct ways. First, in contrast to previous research, this study specifically focuses on factors that affect the decision to implement UD at the beginning of the design process. The main reason for this focus is that the initial motivation or commitment to adopt UD as a design strategy at the very start of the process appears to be important in order to accomplish the goal of inclusion (Bringolf, 2011; Ringaert, 2001).”

 

Autonomous vehicles, independence and universal design

Three children stand in front of a small driverless bus.New cars have automated features, but they are not yet driverless, that is, driven by computers. The mining and agriculture industries already use fully autonomous vehicles. So we have the technology. Driverless cars will be about passengers – all passengers. However, we need to solve roadway issues before this technology can be rolled out for everyday use. As we glimpse a future where anyone can utilise a car, we need to make sure the designs work for everyone. Autonomous vehicles (AV) can bring independence with universal design. 

The Australian and New Zealand Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) has produced a short paper explaining the key issues and recommendations. It covers:

      • Existing Barriers to Transportation
      • Benefits of AV Transportation
      • Increased Economic Opportunities
      • Limitations and Concerns of Autonomous Vehicles
      • Gap Analysis for People with A Disability Table
      • Pilots of Autonomous Vehicles with Aging Communities

The title of the paper is, The road to independence: Inclusive design of autonomous vehicles. The scope of transport solutions includes private, shared, business and public transport options.

Recommendations

Roadmap
1. As part of a Roadmap for autonomous vehicles, Australian governments and other stakeholders should ensure that the development of autonomous vehicle technologies consider the needs of the disabled.
Program Pilots
2. Governments at all levels should prioritise facilitating autonomous vehicle pilots for the disabled, including those integrating other allied and emerging technologies.
Testing
3. Australian testing facilities / proving grounds for autonomous vehicles should include testing of technologies to assist the disabled with regards to autonomous vehicles.
Co-Design
4. By successfully adopting the concept of universal design through co-design, it is forecast that there could be a growth in the vehicle market of up to 17% if all people living with a disability could access private transportation.

Summary

In order to ensure that needs of the people with a disability are understood and technology solutions are developed to address these needs, planning, research and pilot programs need to be undertaken, otherwise the advent of AVs could create new obstacles for people with a disability.

Achieving genuine accessibility for the disabled may require the integration of AVs with other emerging technologies, to enable AVs to understand spoken instructions, observe nearby surroundings and communicate with people.

Whether this eventuates however, will largely depend on how early and to what extent key stakeholders such as vehicle manufacturers, autonomous driving systems developers, infrastructure owners and planning guidelines adopt inclusive design processes and work together to provide design solutions that optimize the end-to-end user journey.

This paper explores how Universal Design of AVs should be considered in Australia, including the benefits it will deliver to society, the economic opportunities that it creates for not only industry but for those living with a disability, and the pathway to achieving this. Universal design provides a process for creating an inclusive society and is similar to other approaches such as inclusive design, human-centred design and design for diversity. Co-design is another important aspect, where designs are created with people with disabilities to ensure that designs are usable and appropriately meet user needs.

The scope of transport solutions covered by this paper includes private, shared, business and public transport options.

Local Government Universal Design Network

Header for the sign up form for joining the netowork.Virginia Richardson is setting up a new universal design interest group for local government staff. This new network will enable like-minded people to share experiences and skills in universal design and inclusive practice.

Local government staff and others with an interest in local government are invited to join this new network. If you are interested in joining, Virginia asks that you complete the online form

The objectives of the Network are:

      • Greater understanding of how UD is being applied in a Local Government setting
      • Support for UD policies to be adopted by more Councils
      • Opportunities for shared professional development and capacity building
      • Potential for joint advocacy to improve State and Federal legislation

This is a great initiative by Virginia Richardson who works for the Mornington Peninsular Shire Council in Victoria. The acronym works too – LGUDN (elgood’n).

Editor’s note: It would be good to see more special interest groups and networks set up to help with the implementation of universal design across different fields of work. 

 

Universal Design and the Circular Economy

A yellow skip bin is overflowing with rubbish.Concerns for climate change and waste production are driving the concept of a “circular economy“. This requires designers to think and create in different ways. But will these new ways also be inclusive, accessible and universally designed? Chances are the answer is “yes”. That’s because a circular economy requires designers to engage with stakeholders in the design process.

Including universal design frameworks in the concept of a circular economy is one way to draw together the many disciplines. A circular economy shares at least one thing in common with universal design – the need to consult with stakeholders. This is one aspect discussed in an article from Sweden that discusses the issues in terms of challenges and practical implications.

The concept of a circular economy is new and mostly discussed in theoretical terms. So it is good to see the concept of universal design being brought into the conversation before implementation strategies are formed. The title of the open access article is, How circular is current design practice? Investigating perspectives across industrial design and architecture in the transition towards a circular economy.

Abstract  

The transition to a circular economy (CE) produces a range of new challenges for designers and requires specific knowledge, strategies, and methods. To date, most studies regarding design for a CE have been theoretical and conceptual, hence, limited research has been conducted on the practical implications of designing for a CE. Therefore, the aim of this study is to provide a better understanding of how design practitioners interpret and implement the CE concept in practice. To capture the complexity of real-world cases, semi-structured interviews were carried out with design practitioners (N = 12) within the disciplines of architecture and industrial design who have actively worked with circularity in a design agency setting. The results show that the practitioners have diverse perspectives on designing for a CE, relating to (1) the circular design process, (2) the effects of the CE on design agencies, (3) the changing role of the designer, and (4) the external factors affecting circular design in practice. Some differences were identified between the architects and industrial designers, with the industrial designers more strongly focused on circular business models and the architects on the reuse of materials on a building level. In addition, circular strategies and associated (similar) terminologies were understood and applied in fundamentally different ways. As the CE blurs boundaries of scale and disciplines, there is a need for universal design frameworks and language. The CE concept is expanding the scope of the design process and driving the integration of new knowledge fields and skills in the design process. The successful implementation of the CE in practice is based on extensive collaboration with stakeholders and experts throughout all stages of the design process. Design agencies have addressed the CE by establishing dedicated CE research and design teams, facilitating knowledge exchange, developing their own circular strategies and methods, and striving for long-term client relationships that foster the engagement of designers with the lifecycles of designed artefacts rather than perceiving design projects as temporary endeavors. Ultimately, a holistic and integral approach towards design in a CE is needed to ensure that the underlying CE goals of contributing to sustainable development and establishing a systemic shift are ongoingly considered.

The Conversation has an article explaining the circular economy.

Make flying less miserable

Inside the cabin of an aircraft, people are queuing in the aisle to take their seatsWhat brings repeat business to an airline? Improving snack selection, smiling staff, warm welcome messages on video screens? None of these. Anyone who has travelled by air, even those who do it regularly, will know that the aircraft itself is rarely the issue. The issue is anxiety. And you can double that for anyone with a cognitive or physical condition which makes it more difficult. So what can be done to make flying less miserable?

An interesting article in FastCompany explains how the anxiety begins before leaving home. Will I miss my flight? Is my baggage under the weight limit and will it arrive safely? Will there be room for my carry-on? And in the current situation, will I catch COVID? The anxiety continues with queues for passport control, waiting for baggage and finally getting to the destination. No wonder travel is tiring.

So the answer to improving customer satisfaction and repeat business is finding ways to reduce anxiety and smooth the the travel experience. The article makes no mention of travellers who need additional supports, but the content of the article has some good points. It is basically about designing the travel experience to be more convenient and easy to use – aligning with universal design concepts. 

There are lessons here for any business selling an experience. The title of the FastCompany article is, Three shockingly obvious ways to make flying less miserable

There is a related article about the future of air travel and how problems might be solved with AI. The article covers  boarding processes, linking ground transport with air transport, and minimising poor passenger behaviour.

See related information in the Airport travel guide for people with dementia

Designers need help to prioritise

A table with white notes with the word "ideas" written in different ways on each one.Designing inclusively means to do the best you can to include everyone. But conflicts arise when a design feature suits one group and not another. So how do designers decide what is best? This is where designers need help to prioritise features that provide the most social good. And where else to look but to user groups, older people and people with disability.

A thoughtful conference paper discusses some of the underlying philosophy of inclusive/universal design and takes the road of pluralism. The authors argue that inclusive design, if taken literally, is unattainable. Justice and fairness are discussed and the authors frame this as ‘design as a deliberative enterprise’. Two case studies where people with disability were included in the design process provide a practical basis for their arguments.

The title of the paper is, Inclusive Design as a Deliberative Enterprise: The multifold value of involving disabled people in design.

Editor’s note: Taking the dictionary definition of “inclusion” for the purposes of research can be helpful if it aids implementation. Perhaps “universal” becomes a better term because it is not about perfection. Rather it is about the iterative process of continuous improvement to include as many people as possible in designs.

Abstract

Designers are challenged to consider human differences in order to meet the needs of the widest possible audience – the purpose of inclusive design. Yet, paradoxically, taking differences seriously may severely restrict ‘the widest possible audience’. How can design be fair if it is impossible to meet the needs of all? Earlier work on inclusivity and quality in design argued for conceiving inclusive design as a deliberative enterprise that involves both designers and the users they design for. A critical reason to involve the latter is that those affected by design decisions are likely to be best positioned to collect contextual information about the needs and demands to be
addressed.

In this paper, we build on this earlier work to take a more detailed look at the deliberative feature of inclusive design. To this end, we analyze two cases in which disabled people, not educated as designers, are involved in design: the first case concerns disabled students and staff of KU Leuven, who give students in engineering-architecture advice on their design projects; the second case concerns the Accessibility Advisory Council in Leuven, Belgium, which is chaired and composed by disabled people, and gives advice on design projects the city is involved in. The analysis is based on written reports and conversations about the project discussions with disabled students/staff and the Advisory Council.

Through this analysis we show that the value of deliberation in this context is multifold: letting contextual information filter in the design process; allowing users to advance reasons for and against possible design alternatives, and draw attention to implications, inconsistencies, ambiguities affecting the relevant beliefs and preferences; enabling both designers and users to reflect on reasons that can be shared, and putting them in a situation of interaction where they can recognize their interrelation with a group.